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Doing well, doing good

"Doing well, doing good" Continued...

Issue: "Beyond hate speech," Aug. 20, 2005

Some other critics want sanctuaries to be cathedrals and fear approaches that can get in the way of building plans. Still others prefer broad give-away programs to the more intensive work the church now emphasizes. To that complaint Don Michael, a retired military pilot who chairs the board of directors that oversees the church's major mercy activities, gives a been-there-done-that response: 15 years ago, "we felt like we were enabling people who didn't want to change."

Overall, the church and ministries budget has increased from $180,000 annually in 1979 to $5.5 million now. Forty percent of the expenditures are for the church and the 70 ministries housed within it, 28 percent for the seven ministries that are housed in their separate buildings on the church grounds, and 32 percent for the school, which began in 1989.

Those numbers don't include payments and donations by Florida governmental and corporate entities. The Residential Group Home receives from the state $66 per child per night. The Medical Care Center receives substantial funding from Leesburg Regional Hospital, which appoints three members of the Center's board; First Baptist appoints four. Disney World donates food and local supermarkets give day-old bread. Pharmaceutical companies monthly contribute supplies worth $60,000-$90,000.

First Baptist members state that such ties do not duct tape the church's voice, and visible evidence bears that out. Signs asking, "Where will you spend eternity?" and stating, "Jesus Christ is Lord" are prominent in the clinic's waiting room. Dr. Vesser states, "We ask patients if they'd like to have someone from the church visit them." He notes that the asking is polite: "We make sure they understand it's not a swap."

So far the ACLU and similar groups have not brought suit, and maybe they won't because ministries such as the Community Medical Care Center provide so much bang for so few bucks. For example, that center's records show that 38 licensed medical professionals each month donate more than 350 hours with a total monthly value of $50,000; donations of pharmaceuticals, X-rays, lab work, eyeglasses, and so forth, plus the time of 42 non-licensed volunteers, totals another $50,000 per month. Overall, with $30,000 for operating expenses cast on the water each month, over four times as much comes back.

But those are statistics, and stats have little emotional grip. The human interest story of a changed church and changed lives is getting out. Art Ayris, First Baptist's executive pastor and now an award-winning screenwriter, is transmitting the church's message with The Touch, a film he produced for under $200,000 with production values (except for a couple of scenes) that suggest a far larger budget.

The film is an exceptional production not only due to its acting and overall professionalism but because it doesn't shy away from the early struggle inside the church concerning ministry evangelism. And now, not only deacons' committees in various churches but non-Christian moviemakers are deciding that something good can come out of Leesburg: Major film festivals in California and Florida plan to show The Touch in October, cable or satellite network showings are likely, and other distribution opportunities beckon.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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